How to Make a Paper Rocket Launcher

Instructor: Wendy McDougal

Wendy has taught high school Biology and has a master's degree in education.

Do you enjoy watching rockets being launched high into outer space? If so, this is the project for you. In this engineering task, build your own rocket launcher and paper rocket. Use your launcher to see how far your rocket will travel!

Introduction

Goal: To build a device that will launch a paper rocket
Age: Upper Elementary School
Time to Complete: 1-2 hours
Safety Concerns: If PVC pipe needs to be cut, an adult should do this. Be sure not to hit anyone while shooting your rocket.

Have you ever watched a rocket launch into the sky? It is an amazing sight to see an enormous spacecraft shooting into deep outer space. Clearly scientists must supply the rocket with a tremendous amount of force to launch it through Earth's atmosphere.

How about launching your own rocket? This still requires force, but of course to a much lesser degree. In this engineering project, you will build your very own rocket launcher that will shoot a paper rocket using the force of moving air. All you need is a few items you may even have lying around your house. Let's get started!

A rocket launch requires great force and is an amazing sight.
Rocket launch

Materials

  • 2-liter bottle (empty)
  • ½ inch PVC pipe, about 8-12 inches long
  • Paper to make rocket
  • Tape

Steps

1. Cut the ½ inch PVC pipe to about 8-12 inches if necessary. This is a step that should be done by adult. Paint your PVC pipe if you wish.

2. Slide the pipe into the opening of the 2-liter bottle.

3. Build your rocket: Roll your paper around the PVC pipe to make the body of the rocket.

4. Remove the rolled paper from the PVC pipe, and fold the end of the rocket closed.

5. Tape the folded end of the rocket so that it stays shut.

6. Cut out three paper triangles to make fins, and tape these to the base of the rocket.

7. Slide your paper rocket back onto the PVC pipe that is fitted inside the opening of the bottle.

Rocket launcher with rocket attached
Rocket launcher

8. Squeeze the bottle with a hard, quick movement and watch your rocket fly!

9. Try some different ways of launching, such as stomping on the bottle (but not too hard).

10. Repeat the launch several times to see how high or far your rocket travels.

Troubleshooting

If your rocket isn't launching, make sure the end of the paper is closed and taped tightly so that air cannot escape. Be careful not to crack the 2-liter bottle when squeezing it, or it will not work effectively.

Discussion Questions

1. How far did your rocket travel when you launched it?

2. What is the best method for squeezing the bottle to launch the rocket?

3. How do you think you could make your rocket launch even farther?

How it Works

In this project, you made a device that launched a simple paper rocket. By forcing air out of a bottle and into the cylinder of the rocket, you were able to send it flying. Although this isn't quite the same principle behind a real rocket launch, it worked well for a paper rocket. Thanks to a very important set of ideas known as Newton's Laws of Motion, we can explain why.

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